Holly Kays

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fr wildernessOut of the gate, the U.S. Forest Service’s first stab at listing potential wilderness areas in the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests met with criticism following its release in late November. 

Whether concerned about which areas were on the list, which weren’t or the timing of the release, nearly everybody had something negative to say about the wilderness inventory. 

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fr jaxtowersCell phone towers will now be allowed on Jackson County ridgetops — at least according a draft ordinance that’s on its way to commissioners after meeting planning board approval last week. 

The final vote on the draft ordinance was unanimous, but the votes and discussion leading up to that final show of hands — especially the ridgetop-oriented part of the discussion — were not.

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A noise ordinance could be in Macon County’s future as the planning board starts in on writing a set of draft rules this week. 

The board’s been taking comment and researching similar ordinances in nearby counties since September, and last week County Planner Matt Mason came to the county commissioners’ meeting to get their thoughts on the issue.

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Macon County’s tying up the loose ends on a property revaluation that will likely cause tax hikes for some and breaks for others, and the county’s tax director gave commissioners a heads up that they’ll probably be getting some phone calls over the next few months. 

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out greenwayThe Little Tennessee Greenway will offer users a bit more space to enjoy the outdoors following Dick and Melissa Jones’ gift of a .66-acre piece of property adjacent to the greenway. 

“The greenway is a  tremendous asset out our community,” said Derek Roland, Macon County manger. “Usage of it continues to grow, and I’m sure in the future we will enter into discussion to see how best that property can add to the enhancement of the greenway.”

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out frThere’s plenty of tradition and symbolism that goes along with the holiday season, but for birders no tradition is more part of the holiday than the annual Christmas Bird Count. 

The count is just what it sounds like: Every year around Christmastime, birding groups around the country get together for a full day outside to count as many bird species as possible in a circle that’s 15 miles wide. Local groups can set their own date, but they have to fall within about 10 days of Christmas Day. This year, bird counts are happening between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. 

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fr cherokeeThere wasn’t much discussion in the chamber Oct. 14 when Cherokee Tribal Council passed its budget for 2014-15. But as news of backpay and a $10,000 raise for council members spread through the reservation, things heated up.

“You’ve opened a door by doing it, and I’m going to question and I’m going to stay on top of this and I’m going to refresh our memories and I’m going to keep the public refreshed,” Teresa McCoy, councilmember from Big Cove, told council during its Oct. 21 meeting. “They’re going to hear about it until they get sick of hearing what council’s doing. You need to go back and read your oath of office.”

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fr libraryThose who frequent downtown Franklin may have noticed an odd-looking birdhouse taking up residence outside town hall in recent months, but the white structure isn’t a habitation for birds — it’s for books.  

“They’re sort of large birdhouse-style kiosks where books can be available to people wherever they are,” explained Karen Wallace, librarian at Macon County Public Library. “Our library is not in our downtown, and we thought it would be nice to make some reading available on Main Street in downtown Franklin.”

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coverLisa Leatherman wasn’t trying to prove a point when she joined Nantahala Power and Light in 1987, the company’s third-ever female meter reader. She wasn’t trying to make a statement by moving up through the ranks as a powerhouse operator, engineer, vegetation management worker, relicensing agent or, as of January 2013, district manager for Duke Energy. 

“I didn’t accept the job wanting to blaze some trail because I was a woman,” she said. “It was a job to do. I’ve generally always approached any job like that. I try to do it my absolute best.”

out frThe sicklefin redhorse is a sneaky kind of fish. It wasn’t discovered as a species until 1992, and even with its existence known, the fish is difficult to tag and track, avoiding radio detection at the bottom of deep river pools. But will the bottom-feeding suckerfish also be able to avoid getting listed as a threatened or endangered species? 

Mike LaVoie, biologist for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, is hoping to answer that question with a negative. The sicklefin has been a candidate for listing since the early 2000s — candidate species are those for whom listing is recommended but funds aren’t available to follow through — but it’s likely the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will make a decision by the end of 2015.  Listing can help vulnerable species make a comeback, but it can also make things more difficult for people who use the river.

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If you ask the average person what kinds of packaging can go in the recycling bin, you’ll probably get a list full of plastic bottles, steel cans and aluminum, but paper cartons don’t usually make that off-the-cuff list.

A group of industry representatives calling itself the Carton Council of North America is hoping to change that. 

“We really do have a vision that those packages are recyclable, and we want to be sure that there is that capability in communities across the country,” said Derric Brown, sustainability director at Evergreen Packaging in Canton. 

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fr greaseThe new wastewater treatment facility in Franklin cost the town more than $5 million to build, but within months of its summer 2013 opening, superintendent Wayne Price noticed a problem. 

“Within six months of putting that into operation, we had fats build up on the walls,” Price said. “It was already getting 2 inches, 3 or 4 inches of fat all around, and there’s no way for us to treat it. We had to do something.”

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coverThere’s nothing Adam Bigelow likes better than a full tank of gas in the summertime with an open road ahead. After all, the drive from Sylva to Cashiers, where he works three days a week, is a beautiful, twisting mountain route that’s great for someone who wants to put their steering skills to the test. 

But Bigelow’s feel-good mood comes more from the contents of his tank than the places it’s getting him. He’s been driving a car powered by veggie oil for years, and he’s got nothing but good things to say about it. 

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out frThings have gone well for the Smokies elk, and they’ve risen from reintroduction experiment to established population. But meanwhile, they’ve outgrown Great Smoky Mountains National Park, spilling over into private lands to find pasture on agricultural fields not intended as gifts to the elk. A land protection project by The Conservation Fund seeks to provide some more suitable places for the elk to go. 

“The reason the elk have come out of the park is there are now more elk than there is habitat to sustain them, so the [N.C.] Wildlife [Resources] Commission is going to need to work to create some habitat that both elk and people will enjoy,” said Bill Holman, state director of The Conservation Fund. 

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Construction on the Parker Meadows sports complex is moving forward, but with some alterations to the original plan following the July discovery of a Cherokee gravesite in the midst of the future ballfields. At the Macon County commissioners’ November meeting, County Planner Matt Mason presented some sketches of what a memorial to the gravesite might look like. 

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For the past four years, Jackson County Neighbors in Need has been footing the bill to put people lacking winter shelter up in motel rooms for the night, but the group is on the lookout for the perfect facility to serve as a central shelter before the winter gets much deeper. 

“We haven’t been able to get into a shelter facility of our own which we are very much hoping to do because it’s very expensive to lodge people in a motel,” said Veronica Nicholas, co-chair of the Neighbors in Need shelter committee. 

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fr homelessmaconThings have been moving quickly for New Hope Center in Franklin. Just a few months ago, the homeless shelter was merely a vague idea in the back of Lowell Monteith’s mind, an awareness that there was a need for some way to help the homeless of Macon County. He’d first witnessed the need during his time at Lifespring Community Church, where he and his wife used to run a soup kitchen. 

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fr rolandA surprise agenda item at this month’s Macon County Commissioner’s meeting put a smile on County Manager Derek Roland’s face. Just shy of his one-year anniversary on the job, the 29-year-old county manager was given a contract for his position. 

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fr golfSequoyah National Golf Club has come out in the red every year since it first opened in 2009, but the Cherokee golf course’s new general manager Kenny Cashwell, of Sequoia Golf Management, thinks that’s a norm that can be reversed. 

“Absolutely,” he said of the club’s potential to turn a profit. “We anticipate being close year one. It’s very possible we may get there.”

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The search for missing 17-year-old Alec Lansing came to a tragic end when searchers found the teen’s body in Nantahala National Forest Nov. 22, not far from the campsite where he left his group. 

An autopsy revealed that Lansing had a broken hip and had died of hypothermia. Because moss from a nearby tree leaning over a small stream was also found on his body, investigators believe he scaled the tree, fell into the shallow stream and broke his hip, which rendered him immobile. 

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out blackrockAfter nearly 20 years of existence, Blackrock Outdoor Company has a new owner. Kelly Custer, who also owns Sylva’s Sheds Hunting Supply, purchased the store from owners Holly Hooper and Heather Ferguson after an August fire in downtown Sylva caused extensive damage to the store and its inventory. 

Custer doesn’t necessarily see the fire’s effects as a liability, however. 

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out frWord on the river is that more and more people are getting into fly fishing, spurring a push for fly-focused tourism and marketing – and the opening of a pair of new fly shops. 

“‘A River Runs Through It’ with Brad Pitt brought a lot of attention to the sport,” said Bob Bennett, who co-owns Tuckaseegee Fly Shop in Bryson City with Dale Collins. “Just in the recent five years or so, things have just really taken off, and I think part of it is bringing awareness to access. This is not a sport that you have to go to Montana for, or Alaska. You can bring it right here in Western North Carolina in the thousands of miles of stream we have.”

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fr pathwaysAt T-minus three days until the scheduled opening day for Haywood Pathways Center, Nick Honerkamp still wasn’t sure how to answer the big question: will the shelter open?

“That is the question of the week,” said Honerkamp, one of the leaders of the effort, Wednesday (Nov. 12) morning.

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After landing a $10,000 grant from the Southwestern Commission — and putting in $10,000 of its own money — Sylva is waiting on a report to come back from JM Teague Traffic Engineering that will answer that one pivotal question: is two-way traffic on Main Street a no or a go? 

“Would it be safe? That’s the main thing,” said Town Manager Paige Dowling. “We don’t want it to cut down on parking or hurt business. Also, in the 1950s Sylva had two-way traffic but cars are bigger now, as are trucks. With Main Street being a highway, could trucks make the turn on Main Street if it were to be two-way?”

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fr franklinDowntown Franklin is sporting some fresh paint after an October decision to spruce up the fading road lines, but over the winter town aldermen will be considering some changes that could be a tad more noticeable.

“During the winter when things slow down a little bit, it will give us time to think about it in more depth,” said Mayor Bob Scott. 

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fr missingteenThe search for Alec Lansing, the missing 17-year-old in Jackson County, has yet to produce any viable leads. He has not, to the best of investigators’ knowledge, contacted any family or friends, and searchers have found the reflective vest he wore as part of the wilderness therapy group he was with, apparently discarded.

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fr missingteenIt’s been more than a week since Atlanta resident Alec Lansing, 17, walked off from the group he was camping with near Heady Mountain Church Road in the Cashiers area, but rescuers are still combing the woods and trolling the skies in search of the missing teen. 

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out frBrian Railsback learned a valuable lesson when he missed a September meeting of the Western Carolina University Honors College Student Board of Directors: skip a meeting, and you just might wind up volunteered to do a century bike ride through the mountains. As Railsback, Honors College dean and English professor, found out later, the meeting concluded with a decision that he should pedal 118 miles to the top of Mount Mitchell to raise scholarship money for the college. 

“What happened was I missed that meeting, and they voted unanimously to move forward with it,” Railsback said.

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fr forestryWhen Brent Martin emerged from the Forest Management Plan meeting in Franklin, the first glimpse into the direction that management in the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests might take over the next few decades, he was upset. Shocked. Disbelieving, even.

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fr hrmcIt’s been three months since publicly owned Haywood Regional Medical Center became a private hospital owned by Duke LifePoint Healthcare, but it will be years before the county knows for sure how much it will get from the $26 million sale.

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fr cherokeehymnsIt’s Sunday afternoon, and a quartet of musicians — one guitarist, three vocalists — stands at the front of a small room whose rows of chairs hold about twenty people. The guitarist strums a few chords, and the voices join in a familiar tune, “Amazing Grace.” 

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out frWhen the North Carolina Audubon Society announced its campaign to install 10,000 small-holed bird boxes to bolster the population of brown-headed nuthatches, Russ Regnery was intrigued. But, like many environmental issues coming down from Raleigh, the plight of the little songbird had little relevance in the mountains. The birds just don’t live much above 2,000 feet. 

“We kind of felt left out because we didn’t have the bird,” said Regnery, president of the Highlands Plateau Audubon Society. “Then we started thinking, ‘Well shucks, the same principal may apply to other small cavity-nesting birds as well.”

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With 10 candidates coming out for four seats on the Haywood County School board, the races was certainly a contested one, but there will be only one new face on the school board in the next term. Bobby Rogers, senior pastor at Dellwood Baptist Church, ousted incumbent Bob Morris for the Crabtree-Ironduff seat with 62 percent of the vote. 

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Chip Hall closed out a grueling race for the Jackson County sheriff’s seat with a landslide victory against his opponent, Curtis Lambert. The Democrat took 64 percent of the vote compared to Lambert’s 36 percent. 

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The Macon County Board of Commissioners will soon see a new face at the table, and it will be that of the top vote-getter in the four-way race for the Franklin seat — Gary Shields will replace incumbent Ron Haven after pulling down 40 percent of the votes. 

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When Katie Messer first presented her plan to improve water quality and generally spruce up a little-used park in Waynesville, she was just trying to pass a class. The report was intended as her capstone project for the low-impact development program at Haywood Community College, a degree that prepares students to reimagine spaces and construction projects so as to have the least environmental impact possible. 

Now, the East Street Park project is up for a $20,000 grant from the Pigeon River Fund that, if awarded, could translate Messer’s report into real-life change. 

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Of the shoppers polled while coming and going from the Bi-Lo parking lot in Franklin on a recent Thursday, none had to be told what Nikwasi Mound was, and nearly all were aware that the town of Franklin and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are currently at odds about the mound’s future. 

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coverAt 7:30 a.m., darkness is just barely beginning to lift from the pre-dawn fields and forest of Cataloochee Valley. Joe Yarkovich steers his National Park Service vehicle through the valley and past a herd of elk bedded down in a field just past the ranger station. A handful of cars already lines the road, their occupants standing bundled outside holding binoculars and long-lensed cameras. We pass a few more fields, empty of both elk and people, before reaching a pull-off near the Caldwell House. An impressive bull and his harem of cows are practically on the road, close enough to toss a rock at. Or, more importantly, to make a great photo. I tighten my grip on the camera.

“That’s the bull I was looking for,” says Yarkovich, a Great Smoky Mountains National Park wildlife biologist who specializes in elk. This particular elk had lost his radio collar when his neck swelled during mating season, called the rut — for that reason, Yarkovich typically replaces collars on male calves with larger ones as the animals mature.

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fr flyfishingIt’s been two years since Alen Baker, the self-described “instigator” of the effort to create the Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians, sent an unsolicited pitch to the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce. But now, the building is renovated and the chamber has moved its offices into part of it. Opening day is slated for May 1, and the museum will hold its first annual fundraising dinner Nov. 1 to gather funds to purchase and display fly-fishing memorabilia from across the region. 

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fr parkwayfriendsWith park funding falling and visitation increasing, keeping those iconic views open along the 46 miles of Blue Ridge Parkway in Haywood County — without breaking the bank — is a challenge. Fast-growing trees and shrubs grow up around the overlooks irrespective of budgets, so when Parkway Superintendent Mark Woods visited the Haywood Tourism Development Authority’s board meeting last week, it was with a view to talk about how to make those dollars stretch. 

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With its landfill nearing capacity, Macon County is taking steps to add a new cell before the existing area fills up about two years from now. They’ve had another phase permitted for about 20 years, but rather than just install a liner in that property and call it a day, the Solid Waste Management Department is looking to buy an adjoining property to add to that already-permitted cell. 

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Things are back on track at Tuscola High School after some threatening graffiti found in a boys bathroom last week caused school officials to send students home a few minutes early. 

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fr animaltherapyDomestic violence in Haywood County — and its effect on children — could take a hit as the Thirtieth Judicial District Domestic Violence-Sexual Assault Alliance starts using the $1 million it won through a competitive federal grant. Only $10 million was dispersed nationwide, but the Alliance’s share of the three-year grant, given through the Office on Violence Against Women through the U.S. Department of Justice, jumped from $400,000 in the last grant cycle to the $1 million it now has to work with. 

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out fr2Ken Czarnomski has always loved sketching and writing, but as a department chair for the sustainability and construction management programs at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, his projects consisted mainly of razor-straight lines and technical engineering language. There wasn’t a lot of room for freehand sketches or colorful commentary. 

After retiring, Czarnomski began looking around for ways to pick up some of those hobbies he’d left untouched as a working professional. At the same time, he wanted to find a way to give back to his community, Haywood County. So, he started sketching hiking maps.

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fr hospicehouseHospice House of WNC passed a hurdle in its fundraising effort when the Macon County Board of Commissioners voted to submit a grant application on the organization’s behalf. In a 4-0 vote, the commissioners unanimously agreed to support the hospice house’s bid for the $100,000 Building Reuse Grant from the N.C. Department of Commerce. 

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When a property tax bill for the old town hall building showed up in the Town of Franklin’s mail, John Henning, the town’s attorney, was surprised. The bill called for a payment of $2,872.22 on a property that Henning said, as a piece of public property, should be exempt from property tax. 

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fr magistrateIn the short walk from the doors of the Swain County Courthouse to the steps outside it, a couple of people stopped Gilbert Breedlove to shake his hand, ask him if it was true he was resigning his post as magistrate judge and express support. After holding the job for nearly 24 years, this was the last day that Breedlove would spend his working hours in the courthouse.

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Waynesville Middle School is set to get a new roof, following a vote by Haywood County Commissioners to approve a project that the Haywood County School Board OK’d Sept. 8. The project will finish off a campaign against leaky roofs that Tracy Hartgrove, the school system’s maintenance director, has been championing since he arrived eight years ago. 

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out fr2A lot of people familiar with Great Smoky Mountains National Park got a surprise earlier this month when an article began making the rounds online claiming that a hiker had discovered an abandoned town in the middle of the park.

“Sometimes it’s easy to take for granted how much land there is in America. Sure, it’s harder and harder to find places that haven’t been explored, but it’s also become easier to forget places that we’ve already been. Kind of like the entire friggin’ town in the middle of Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” read the lead of an article featured on road trip planning site Roadtrippers, later reposted in The Huffington Post. 

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State issues are trickling down to the election debate surrounding the Macon County commissioners’ races. Three of the five seats are open, bringing out a total of six candidates looking for a place on the board. Chief among the topics of discussion surrounding the race are education funding, how to prioritize spending in the wake of the real estate bust and what stand, if any, the county should take on fracking. 

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